Are electric smokers good for creating deliciously low n slow smoked meat? Or should you spend your money on a different type of smoker?
I’d like you to take a moment and give silent thanks to the geniuses who figured out how to harness electricity.
Thanks to people like Benjamin Franklin, Nikola Tesla, and Thomas Edison, we can fill our homes with appliances, power tools, and home theatres. And, yes, we can even smoke meat with it.
Modern and ancient technology come together in the electric smoker, with the promise of great food without all the hassle of a charcoal or wood smoker.
But, do they deliver results you’d want to serve your friends and family – or yourself? Are electric smokers any good, and should you buy one?
In this article, we’ll cover the Top 7 reasons for buying an electric smoker.
But, in the interest of fairness, we’ll also look at some of the drawbacks you need to consider before taking the plunge.
Without further ado, let’s plugin and get cooking.
Contents (Jump to Topic)
- 1 No Experience Necessary – They’re THAT User-Friendly!
- 2 Simple and Easy to Use
- 3 It’s a CLEAN and Green Smoking Machine
- 4 Electric Smokers Create Little Residue and Clean Up Easily
- 5 Low Start-Up and Operating Costs
- 6 Fire Ban in Effect? No Problem!
- 7 Try Cold Smoking – Without Being a DIY Expert
- 8 But There Are, of Course, Downsides
- 9 Final Thoughts
No Experience Necessary – They’re THAT User-Friendly!
Let’s just say it – smoking food over wood or charcoal is not easy. The competition pit bosses make it look easy, but it’s what they do for a living.
For the rest of us, smoking is a hands-on hobby that requires attention to detail, constant adjustments, and much trial-and-error.
Electric smokers are as easy to operate as a kitchen oven. If you can set a thermostat, you can smoke meat in an electric smoker. They are that easy to use.
The smoker takes care of holding the right temperature by electronically controlling a heating element, leaving you with nothing to do but keep an eye on your digital smoker thermometer. Temperature control truly is as simple as keying in the right value with a digital controller.
If you expect to always be just a casual smoker, an electric model takes away that pesky learning curve.
With an electric smoker doing the hard work for you of holding the temperature steady, you’re free to experiment with timing, and different woods, rubs, and marinades, getting that right over months and only then moving onto learning fire control with a wood burning or charcoal fueled model.
Simple and Easy to Use
Maybe treading on the toes on point 1 but hammering it home: They are so straightforward and easy to use, they are unmatched in their simplicity.
A lot of planning and execution goes into smoking meat over charcoal or wood. You have to lay in a supply of fuel, decide how to arrange your charcoal, fuss with dampers to compensate for the outside temperature and wind conditions, and so on.
That’s all before coaxing your smoker up to the right temperature so you can add your food.
With an electric smoker, you plug it in, fill up the water pan and chip tray, set the desired temperature, then smoke and heat is generated.
From there, just relax and wait while the unit comes up to temperature, and then insert your meat for a dinner-to-be. True set it and forget it smoking.
Here’s a video showing just how easy it is to create deliciously smoked meat in an electric smoker:
It’s a CLEAN and Green Smoking Machine
There’s no arguing that charcoal burns dirty, especially if you ignore my recommendations and buy it with lighter fluid added.
Even burning propane releases carbon monoxide and other trace amounts of nasty stuff.
With an electric smoker, the only thing actually burning is the wood chips, so there’s no additional crud flung into the atmosphere by your fuel source. Or into your food, for that matter.
Electric Smokers Create Little Residue and Clean Up Easily
Unlike with wood burning or charcoal smokers, there’s next to nothing for you to clean up at the end of a smoke session.
No lumps of spent charcoal or logs, and no massive piles of ash. All that’s left behind is the small bit of ash left behind by your wood chips.
Also, because they burn so cleanly, you won’t get nearly the same degree of soot build-up inside an electric smoker as you will with other smoker types.
As an added bonus, the stainless steel used in most electrics is easy to wipe down if there are any spills, or when build-up does get to be too much.
Low Start-Up and Operating Costs
Ok, technically that’s two reasons, but I’m lumping them together.
Electric smokers are less expensive to purchase than most other types of smokers. There are plenty of electric smokers costing under $200. Offsets and kamados, on the other hand, may clear ten times that price.
Of course, there are lower-cost options in charcoal, too. But, overall, you’ll get more bang (and quality) for your buck with a low-cost electric than a cheapo charcoal unit.
But what about after you’ve left the store? The savings keep coming.
Electricity is pretty cheap these days, sometimes even less expensive than propane. They use wood chips or sometimes pellets, and both are less expensive than wood chunks. Plus, there’s no charcoal to buy.
You’ll also find that many electric smokers, thanks to their vertical design, have space for you to cook a lot of food at once instead of breaking it up into multiple sessions.
The smoke and heat are in there anyway, so why not take advantage? More food per session equals less total expenses.
Fire Ban in Effect? No Problem!
We won’t get into the whole climate change argument here, but, in many parts of the world, a fire ban is a fact of life. Electric smokers to the rescue!
Ok, so electric smokers won’t solve the climate crisis. But, you can operate one under a fire ban because there is no fire!
There’s enough heat inside your electric smoker to cause the chips to smolder, but no open flame and no hot embers are emanating from a vent or chimney.
The same goes for folks who live in apartments or condos; most of them have severe restrictions on the use of barbecues.
Once again, where there is smoke, there isn’t fire when it comes to an electric smoker. Some of the best small grills for apartment dwellers are electric. So you can still enjoy the party!
Actually, before you do that, check your local regulations to be sure electric smokers aren’t explicitly forbidden. Smoked food is great, but getting fined sucks.
Try Cold Smoking – Without Being a DIY Expert
The type of smoking you’re most familiar with could be termed “hot smoking.” That’s how we smoke meat and fish.
For food too delicate to handle the 225F to 250F heat, however, cold smoking is a tasty option.
Cold smoking is a lot like regular smoking, except the temperature is much, much lower. That means you can smoke stuff like cheese or nuts without melting or roasting them.
Many electric smoker manufacturers offer easy add-on cold smoke generators. If you can’t get enough smoke in your diet, you’ll love this option.
To learn more about cold smoking, check out this guide to the Best Cold Smoke Generators, including a full write-up on how it’s done and what you can smoke.
Or take a look at this video on how to cold smoke cheese in an electric smoker:
But There Are, of Course, Downsides
Far be it for me to sit here and blow smoke up your you-know-what when it comes to electric smokers. They have some notable drawbacks, too.
Here are a few for you to mull over before you pick one up.
Limited Temperature Range
Most electric smokers have a maximum temperature capacity of about 275F. That’s perfectly fine for smoking, but you’ll never roast or bake anything at such a low temperature.
There are plenty of gas, charcoal, and wood smokers capable of reaching upwards of 400F or higher. This dramatically expands your outdoor cooking options, positioning such smokers as a legit replacement for a kitchen oven.
Lack of Portability – You are Tied to a Power Supply
Many people whom barbecue love to cook away from home. And why not? You can light a fire anywhere you go, right?
But what you can’t do is find an electrical outlet anywhere you go.
Not to overstate the obvious, but an electric smoker requires electricity to function. Therefore, you’re limited as to where you can use one by the availability of a place to plug it in.
Before buying an electric smoker, think about where you plan to use it. Even for home use, you need to consider if there’s easy access to power in your preferred location.
Lots of Tech That Can Break
Murphy’s Law states that what can go wrong, will.
With so much extra technology compared to, say, an offset smoker, it’s far more likely that an electric smoker will break down and need repairs.
Think about it; there’s the heating element, the thermostat, potentially an LCD display, and whatever digital brain is running the whole operation. There’s a lot more going on there than just wood on fire!
Repairs can be pricey and expensive, and usually have to be completed by a professional. A basic drum-style smoker might last you decades without giving you much trouble. I wouldn’t want to bet on an electric smoker lasting nearly that long.
No Smoke Ring?
I’m not going to get into the science of the smoke ring here, because there’s too much to say. If you want to know all the details, check out my detailed discussion on the bbq smoke ring.
But the basics of it are:
- The smoke ring is a reaction between myoglobin, nitric oxide, and carbon monoxide…it has little to do with smoke.
- You can create a smoke ring without there even being any smoke!
- It is NOT a sign of good BBQ. Though it is pretty and nice to have 🙂
Anyway, that said, many people LOVE to see a smoke ring and mistakenly see it as a sign of good BBQ. It sure does look pretty, and I admit to loving getting one, but it’s not a necessary thing and does not affect taste, texture, or anything at all besides looks.
However, please be aware that when using an electric smoker, because the heat is so ‘clean,’ it’s hard to create a smoke ring, and often you do not get one at all. Certainly, nothing like you do with a wood-burning or charcoal-burning smoker.
So if a smoke ring is important to you, don’t be surprised not to see it often.
Despite a few cons, overall, an electric smoker will deliver an excellent return on your investment.
Viewed as an introduction to smoking, a simple solution for anyone lacking the time or interest to get seriously into smoking, or the only choice for those who can’t light a fire, an electric smoker may be the ideal choice for your next outdoor cooking purchase.
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